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FIRST LOOK: Awe-inspiring and fun – Spectra returns to Aberdeen in blaze of glory

There is something brightly right about Spectra being Aberdeen’s first large-scale, in-person festival to lead us out of the pandemic –it was the last one held before Covid turned the lights off.

Now they are back on and spectacularly so, in a festival of light that manages to create a sense of awe, sense of wonder, sense of spectacle and sense of fun, all in a short walk around the heart of the Granite City.

This is very much an event that uses our iconic streets and buildings – inside and out – as a stage to show art and Aberdeen at its very best, as we discovered on a preview of the event before it bursts into life on Thursday February 10.

The epicentre of all this is very much Broad Street.

Broad Street is the epicentre of Spectra. All pictures by Paul Glendell.

Stand across the street from Marischal College and everywhere you look, there’s Spectra.

At the Upperkirkgate end, the festival shows its simplicity and power… a neon sign with the enigmatic words “I’m Also Here Because Of A Storm”, so redolent of what we’ve been through in the two years.

Colourful ode to bus journey through Aberdeen

One of three such neons dotted around the city centre, bearing the words of Scots writers and poets in the festivals Writ Large strand, celebrating Scotland’s Year Of Stories.

Just yards away from it another home-grown writer and poet is writ very large indeed. A hypnotic splash of colourful, at times cartoon-like, moving images sprawl and crawl across the granite façade of Marischal College.

Check out our interactive map to Spectra

This is Six Frames, inspired by Sheena Blackall’s ode to a bus journey through town, with the poem itself read aloud in all its Doric glory with an earworm soundtrack.

You could stand and watch this world premiere from Illuminos on repeat for ages and still find something new, warm and witty every time.

It also forms the backdrop to another two Spectra pieces. The Pendulum Wave Machine is a lovely bit of simplistic steampunk-tinged art from the Travelling Light Circus.

Suspended silver globes are set in motion creating wave-like patterns that shimmer and dance and even resolve themselves into a double helix DNA strand before coming to rest. It’s great fun.

The Pendulum Wave Machine is poetry in motion … with a steam punk touch.

Which Spectra installation is the most fun?

But arguably the most fun to be had in Spectra comes from the Trumpet Flowers, by amigo & amigo,  yards away from the wave machine.

A garden of brightly light, gently swaying, flowers are an open invitation to wander through the garden … and when you step on pads in the ground, you are rewarded with rich jazzy sounds from trumpets to drums.

Every so often the whole thing bursts into blaring, joyful life, all exuberant music and kinetic lights. If that doesn’t make you smile, nothing will. Even on the preview night, it was pulling in grown-ups and little kids to dance around and laugh.

Garden of delights with the Trumpet Flowers on Broad Street.

Spectra on Broad Street is bookended by two of the festival’s larger-scale installations – both of which could easily lay claim to being the centrepiece attraction.

To be honest, it’s hard to choose which one is more spectacular, Together on the Castlegate or Gaia in Aberdeen Art Gallery.

Together has the big “wow factor”, an installation that dominates the cityscape. Sitting hard against the Mercat Cross, with the Citadel as a backdrop, it will draw your eye from the length of Union Street – it is three-storeys high after all.

What is the thing on the Castlegate that looks like it’s from Stargate?

Even better, though, is rounding the corner from Broad Street and seeing it sitting there – three massive, mirrored rings, illuminated on their edges, with bright text swirling around inside.

Together on the Castlegate has the “wow” factor.

It looks like something out of the film Stargate. But it’s not aliens inside, just moving words contributed by local people written about the thoughts and feelings of pandemic.

Together very much feels like a place people will gather, to enjoy its scale and sense of splendour – as well as that beacon of hope and feeling we are moving forward, finally.

Yet Gaia, from Luke Jerram,  is an installation that truly deserves the accolade of awe-inspiring. Everyone knows the Sculpture Court of the art gallery. It’s probably one of the most familiar and most-loved spaces in Aberdeen.

Here it is transformed by having a massive Planet Earth floating in the middle of it – a huge ever-rotating globe, bathed in a gentle blue light with an ethereal soundscape of music, sounds, even what appears to be clips of NASA conversations with astronauts.

Gaia is a truly awe-inspiring piece of art in Aberdeen Art Gallery.

The scale of the piece is a reminder of how vast our homeworld is, and how fragile it has become.

Ethereal Moon radiates sense of peace in the Music Hall

Then there is Luke’s lunar companion piece to Gaia the Museum Of The Moon. This, too, is a massive detailed Moon, seemingly floating in the auditorium of the Music Hall.

Bathed in gentle blue light, there is something ethereal and peaceful about this work, especially with sounds ranging from Nasa moonshot chatter to the gentle strains of, what else, Clair de Lune, by Debussy.

Museum of the Moon by Luke Jerram at the Music Hall is ethereal and peaceful. Picture by Kamim Thomson.

Again, Museum Of The Moon is something you just want to stand and gawp at, taking in every detail of the seas and craters of our nearest neighbour.

Away from the big pieces, there are tweaks and touches of fun to be had. Look out for the Projector Bikes, scurrying around Broad Street and Upperkirkgate, mobile cinemas projecting fun images including rockets and flying saucers.

Mindbending vistas can be found in the Hypercube on Upperkirkgate.

And don’t forget to get up close and personal with the Hypercube outside the Bon Accord Centre’s Upperkirkgate entrance – a literal box of delights that opens up endless vistas of light when you peer inside.

Spectra is for the people… here’s how to find out more

Spectra is very much a festival for the people – all of it is free, all of it is within walking distance. It is there to enjoy and embrace and, given the number of people joining the fun on the preview night, it is going to be massively popular.

This festival of light is a dazzling way to drive cold winter away – and blaze the way towards brighter days ahead after two years of darkness.

Six Frames in full swing on the front of Marischal College.

Spectra is delivered by Curated Place on behalf of Aberdeen City Council. To find out more about the festival of light and what it offers visit

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